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Russians agreed to leave “if there are no [Ukrainian] military in the city” – says mayor

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After a major protest by residents, a mayor in a Ukrainian town held by Russian forces has been liberated and the soldiers have agreed to leave.

Russian military took Slavutych, a northern town near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but stun grenades and overhead fire failed to disperse unarmed demonstrators in the town’s main plaza on Saturday.

The crowd sought the release of Yuri Fomichev, the mayor who had been kidnapped by the Russian military.

Russian military’ attempts to frighten the protestors failed, and Fomichev was released by his captors on Saturday afternoon.

The Russians agreed to evacuate the town if those possessing weapons gave them up to the mayor, with exceptions granted for those with hunting rifles.

The Russians had promised to leave “if there are no [Ukrainian] military in the city,” Fomichev told the protesters.

According to the mayor, the Russians agreed to conduct a search for Ukrainian soldiers and armaments before departing. One Russian checkpoint would remain on the outskirts of the city.

Even when Russian forces have gained military victories, the incident underlines the difficulties they have experienced.

Slavutych, with a population of 25,000, is located just outside the Chernobyl exclusion zone, which was the location of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. Russian forces seized the factory shortly after the invasion began on February 24.

“The Russians opened fire into the air. They threw flash-bang grenades into the crowd. But the residents did not disperse, on the contrary, more of them showed up,” said Oleksandr Pavlyuk, a governor of the Kyiv region in which Slavutych sits.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s defence ministry said that Russia was “trying to intensify the activities of sabotage and reconnaissance groups in Kyiv in order to destabilise the socio-political situation, disrupt the system of public and military administration”.

Vladimir Putin had planned to conquer Ukraine’s cities within days of initiating his “special military operation” on February 24, according to Western sources, but had run into unexpectedly tough resistance.

While the occasional blast from fighting to the west of the city can be heard in Kyiv, the city center has been relatively peaceful for the previous fortnight.

“To start with they wanted blitzkrieg, 72 hours to get control [of] Kyiv and much of Ukraine, and it all fell apart,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the primary negotiator in negotiations with Russia, said in a Kyiv interview.

“They had poor operational planning, and they realised it was advantageous for them to surround cities, cut off the main supply routes, and force people there to have a deficit of food, water and medicines,” he added, describing the siege of Mariupol as a psychological horror and exhaustion tactic.

Podolyak, on the other hand, expressed skepticism about a declaration made by the Russian defense ministry on Friday that Moscow’s soldiers will now concentrate their efforts primarily in the Donbas region of east Ukraine.

“Of course I don’t believe that. They don’t have interests in Donbas. Their main interests are Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and the south – to take Mariupol, and to close the Azov Sea … we see them regrouping and preparing more troops to send in,” he added.

Image Credit: Getty

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